Federal agencies Transportation

NTSB issues rail recommendations to help prevent reset of ‘alerters’

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Washington – The potential for faulty electronic alertness devices on trains has prompted the National Transportation Safety Board to issue urgent safety recommendations.

The devices, also known as “alerters,” aim to help ensure that the locomotive engineer remains vigilant while operating the train. Visual and audible alerts should trigger if no activity has been detected for a set period of time, and brakes should activate if the crew continues not to respond. However, NTSB has found that the alertness devices can reset due to automated events rather than human inputs.

NTSB uncovered the problem during its investigation of a deadly 2014 train collision in Hoxie, AR. Two Union Pacific freight trains collided after one of the trains failed to sound an alarm because its horn sequencer repeatedly reset the alertness device. The collision killed two crew members and forced the evacuation of 500 nearby residents.

In response, NTSB recommended that the Federal Railroad Administration review existing regulations and revise them as needed to prohibit automatic systems from resetting alertness devices. NTSB also asked FRA to urge all railroads to identify any system inputs that might reset alertness devices and to determine ways to eliminate those resets.